Chiloe is a magical place, an archipelago located in the south of Chile in front of the northern part of the Chilean Patagonia. Beautiful landscapes, stilt colorful houses, wooden churches, friendly people and a unique mythology are some of the highlights of Chiloe.
“Chiloé mágico”, it’s sometimes called. Magical Chiloe.
Chiloe is indeed a special place, an archipelago located in the south of Chile in front of the northern part of the Chilean Patagonia. Due to its remote location and historical isolation it has developed a unique culture and charm. It’s like being in another world.
Beautiful landscapes, stilt colorful houses, wooden churches, friendly people and a unique mythology are some of the highlights of Chiloe.
I arrived past midnight, after a 14 hours journey by ferry from northern Patagonia. A small dot on the Pacific ocean, the ferry moved up and down between ocean and rain. I arrived a bit dizzy but willing to explore this magical land.
Chiloé island is the biggest island in the archipelago of the same name. It’s a green island, home to the Valdivian temperate rain forest. It somehow reminded me of some parts in New Zealand.
With the majority of food coming from the sea, most towns and villages are constructed on the coast. The capital and biggest city is Castro, on the eastern side of the island, a good location to explore others places as the Chiloe National Park and the villages of Dalcahue and Chonchi.
Palafitos, the stilt houses of Chiloe
I didn’t know much about Chiloe before I arrived, but I had heard about the “palafitos”.
The “palafitos” are stilt wooden houses built over the water. They’re very colorful and very characteristic from the archipelago. They reminded me of the stilt houses I had seen in northern Laos, but in a more colorful version.
Not only they’re colorful, the external part is covered in wooden pieces of a geometrical design. Different houses had different designs. In some houses they’re rounded, or triangular, or featuring another shape. The same kind of colorful geometrical decoration was used in the houses built on the land (not the stilt houses).
Chiloe wooden churches
Another highlight of Chiloe are the wooden churches. There are over 150 wooden temples, entirely made of wood, colorful on the outside and beautifully decorated inside.
The oldest ones were built by the jesuits during the 18th Century. Some of them have disappeared but some of them are well preserved. Being about 300 years old they are some of the oldest wooden constructions in the world. No wonder 16 of them have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mythology of Chiloe
If there is something really special in Chiloe is the Chilote mythology. The origin of their myths and legends is a mixture of the indigenous beliefs and the colonizers legends and superstitions. They are linked to the ocean and are still alive.
“Millalobo” is the king of the sea. He has a wife, “Huenchula”, and three children, “Pincoy” (the price) and “Pincoya” and “sirena chilota” (the princesses), who influence the fish. “Caleuche” is a fantom ship which can be sometimes seen near the shore. And there are many others.
I saw some of them in the form of sculptures and paintings. This distinct culture was somehow present in many places. Even the street art in Chiloe was very characteristic.
Weather in Chiloe
I learnt in New Zealand that green landscapes means rainy weather, and Chiloe was no exception.
I was there in June, winter time, and it rained every day for one week. Fortunately most of the days it didn’t rain the entire day, though it was still quite hard to be there when it was cold and rainy.
I think that it’s better to visit in summer, even if it means high season. Hardly anybody goes there in winter. I don’t think I saw any tourist that week and in the tourist office I was told that they hadn’t received any visit for one month.
Food in Chiloe
Even the food in Chiloe is characteristic and different from other parts of the country. Chiloe’s gastronomy is a fusion of Mapuche and Spanish food with influences from Chile and Argentina. The main ingredients in their dishes are “papas” (potatoes), fish and sea food:
“Chapalele”: dumpling made of boiled potatoes and wheat flour.
“Milcao”: kind of potato pancake prepared with raw grated potatoes, cooked mashed potatoes and some other ingredients as pork.
“Curanto al hoyo”: the one you should try! It consists on chicken, sausages, smoked pork, potatoes, “chapalele”, “milcao” and seafood slowly cooked inside a hole on the ground.
I had heard that people in Chiloe are very friendly and they are! Maybe it helped that it was low season and, as I said before, there weren’t many tourists. And specially, there weren’t many girls traveling alone, so locals were curious and talked to me.
One woman I met in the bus was a bit concerned about me traveling alone.
- “Is it dangerous here?”, I asked.
- “No, it’s safe here in Chiloe but take care when you travel north”.
In Quellon I started talking with a woman who had a souvenir shop. She told me about the “toninas”, the small dolphins that can be seen from the shore (photo below!).
In Chonchi I met a woman in the church who told me about the church and the wood which was used for its construction. We also compared the way of heating the houses in Chiloe, Patagonia and Barcelona.
In Dalcahue, I entered a restaurant to try the famous “curanto al hoyo”. Looking for someone to ask, I ended up in the place where two men were cooking. They showed me the hole that contained the meat and seafood. They told me to take a sit in the restaurant and they called me back when they opened the hole so I could see it.
Have you visited Chiloe? Have you been to any magical, unique place?
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